Sunday, February 5, 2023

Karlovy Vary Now and Then

 An offshoot of the war in Ukraine has been the antipathy bordering on anathema Czech citizens have for Russians since the invasion a year ago. It is particularly apparent in Karlovy Vary, a spa town that for centuries catered to the wealthy, particularly Russian aristocracy and well placed commissars ( 

Gilda and I visited Karlovy Vary, perhaps more commonly known to Americans as Carlsbad, in January 1998. We were driven there by our host, Václav Kašpar,  the vice dean of the University of Economics, Prague, who had invited me to Prague to deliver a presentation on American retailing. 

The Czech Republic was emerging from the sphere of Soviet Union-Russian influence. Capitalism, spearheaded by retailing, was a vital area of interest. 

As we drove the approximate 80 miles west to Karlovy Vary, the greyness of winter could not obscure the reality that life under the Soviet Union’s thumb had sapped the countryside of much of its splendor, a truth that became more apparent as we entered Karlovy Vary and toured one of their spas. Perhaps Russians would accept dilapidated treatment rooms and baths, but by Western standards the spa left much to be desired.

No doubt in the decades since our visit Karlovy Vary has upgraded many of its facilities. 

Most prominent in my memory of our stay in Prague was the experience of my presentation, a speech I had given several times in other European cities and in America. Back then I used a carousel of some 140 slides to illustrate American retailing. 

The half-circle auditorium was filled. It was set up like a theater, with seats banked upward to just below the ceiling. Above the top row there was a booth for the audio-visual staff who had taken my slide carousel for projection to a screen behind where I stood on the stage. I was given a remote clicker to advance or return to a slide.

Shortly after beginning I glanced at the screen to make sure the slides were in sync with my script. They were not. They were two ahead. I pushed the return button. Nothing happened. I pushed again. Nothing happened.

Seeing my distress, the A/V staff assumed my clicker had frozen. So every time they saw me press the clicker they manually advanced the slide carousel. As I was continually trying to go backwards, they were moving the carousel forward. While I would be talking about Walmart, they would be displaying a slide about Macy’s, for example. 

I soldiered through my hour-long presentation, relieved that the consecutive translation at least let my audience hear my words. I had stopped trying to sync the slides after realizing it would never happen. 

Václav apologized for the technical mishap, presented me with a commemorative medal from the university and arranged to take Gilda and me to Karlovy Vary the next day. 

Upon our return to Prague, an added bonus was a visit to his mother’s residence. A widow, she had an apartment in the central city that reflected the grandeur that once was Prague’s. 

It had parquet floors throughout the three bedroom apartment, with high ceilings and large windows. It was furnished with dark brown bureaus and tables. 

It was an apartment certainly too large for just one occupant. Indeed, Václav, his wife and son lived with her until they opted for a more suburban home of their own. 

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